The history of hang gliding goes back to the time that man or woman wondered how it would feel to fly like a bird. There are written accounts of hang gliding in Spain in 800s, Iran and England in the 1000s. Leonardo Da Vinci was fascinated by bird flight and is credited for drawing and creating flying machines in the early 1500s.
It was not until the late 1800s when advancements were made in the construction of hang gliders that hang gliding took off. Otto Lilienthal, Octave Chanute, John Montgomery, Wright Brothers, John Dickenson and Lawrence Hargrave are just a few names of early aviation pioneers. Todays modern hang gliders are based on rigid wing designs created by Otto Lilienthal of Berlin Germany. In 1891 Otto was routinely making recorded flights of eighty two feet and by 1896 he had made over 2000 flights at lengths of up to eight hundred and twenty feet. By the early 1900’s the Wright Brothers airplanes took over the sky until the 1940s when Francis Rogallo invented the flexible wing hang glider. Many successful adaptations were made and tried but the hang gliding trend did not pick up again until 1960s & '70s.
There are two types of hang gliders, flexible wing and rigid wing. The difference between the two is how the frame of the glider is made. The flexible wing glider looks more like a parachute with an internal structure to support the shape of the wing. The rigid wing hang glider has an external hard frame with material stretched over it. Both the flexible and the rigid wong hang gliders were made for mass production in the 1970s. In 1973, Wills Wings was one of the first companies to produce a flexible wing hang glider similar to those in use today.
Currently, there have been six generations of hang gliders built and flown. There are few differences between the past and the present designs. Most differences are made for safety and to allow for longer flights. From the 1980s to present day hang gliding has become a sport practiced in almost every part of the world. Almost 1000 years later we are still obsessed with flight. Hopefully, the birds don’t become too jealous of us.